Spirit of 76


76 Under Forties from 44 Utilities, Commissions, Etc.

Fortnightly Magazine - June 2019

I cannot exaggerate the differences, between the culture of utilities back when I began my career in the industry, forty-one years ago, and the culture of today's utilities. I remember visiting utilities' corporate offices then. Except for support staff, everyone there had similar demographics and backgrounds. Senior managers generally wore gray hair and gray suits. I felt fairly conspicuous given my age, young, and religion, Jewish. And made sure to study the 1975 bestseller "Dress for Success."

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But now? The diversity you find in our industry these days is a veritable Brooklyn Botanic Garden of gender, ethnicity, national origin, dress, experience, and on and on. Acknowledging there's considerable headroom to become more diverse. Though whether you're in the executive suite or the control center or at a regulatory hearing, it's clear to this industry veteran that there's a new and vibrant spirit in utilities. 

Much of the work of utilities, I admit, necessarily continues to be repetitive and consistent. We are responsible after all for keeping society ticking — with safe and reliable service — as inconspicuously as a yellow tie donned in the late seventies. That's why members of the armed forces make great recruits for utilities. They come in with a disciplined service mentality.

Yet, the utilities, commissions, associations, firms and agencies in electric, gas and water distribution — as we enter the second quintile of the twenty-first century — have managed to layer in remarkable diversity to be as creative and innovative as they are repetitive and consistent. Look around your organization. And look around the other organizations you work with. Sprinkled in, amply, are talented and passionate personalities taking on new and increasing responsibilities by the day.

I give you as one example, Julie Maupin of WEC Energy Group, its Peoples Gas subsidiary. She helped develop and implement a curb valve for older low-pressure lines into basements. Or Sherina Maye Edwards and Andrew Giles Fay, one already finished with a term as a member of the Illinois Commerce Commission, and the other a current member of the Florida Public Service Commission, both in their early thirties.

Or Riley Ceria, at Hawaiian Electric Industries, led a team to restore service to nearly a thousand customers after a volcanic eruption. Or Jaclyn Cantler of Exelon, its Pepco Holdings subsidiary. Her team is designing and implementing a nearly billion dollar project to improve reliability and resilience in the Washington, D.C. area. (Wondering if she can fix the federal government there afterwards.)

How about at EPRI? There's Ajit Renjit, to cite one young star there, who is developing open source tools for managing distributed energy. Or Eric Grey at EEI who helped utilities and utility customers save many billions, including the interest expense deduction, during passage of the 2017 tax cut act. Or Naza Shelley at the D.C. Public Service Commission, who's managing the District's grid mod proceeding.

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And I love the stories about Bethany Schunn of Buckeye Power, the first woman plant manager of the large Cardinal Power Plant. And about Luke Wollin of Ameren who, with his team, developed the utility's first gas-insulated 345kV substation. And about Anna Stewart of Arizona Public Service who helped thousands of teachers throughout the state with five hundred dollar certificates to purchase school supplies.

Don't want to forget Matt Olson at Burns & McDonnell. He's leading change with private LTE networks to securely handle the massive growth in utility data telecommunications. Nor should we skip Sri Maddipati of CMS Energy. He's completed over three billion in financing for the utility and entered into a sustainability-linked loan as part of the People Planet Profit triple bottom line initiative.

I cannot brag on all seventy-six celebrated in this year's Fortnightly Under Forty. Not here anyway as space is at a premium. Catch the spirit of the seventy-six here. They hail from forty-four different utilities, commissions, associations, firms and agencies.

It was exciting for me to read about them and then to summarize their achievements herein. And to wonder what additional great accomplishments lay before them in their careers. It's enough to make me feel young too.